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Every Photo is a Story
Part 5: Interpret Stories You Discover

Try It Yourself Exercise

Prints and Photographs Division

Exercise: Unearth a Garden Story

Part 5 - Interpret the Stories We Discover
View Part 5
View all parts of
"Every Photo is a Story"

Before getting started:

Watch "Every Photo is a Story" Part 5: Interpret Stories You Discover

Review the Top Tips for Part 5: Interpret Stories You Discover:

  • Look closely at the photographs.
  • Learn about who took the picture.
  • Consider the photographic technology and the audience.
  • Search for related written information.
  • Ask lots of questions--and ask for help. Seek out reference librarians, archivists, historians and other experts.

Exercise: Unearth a Garden Story

In the final exercise, bring together all you have learned from watching all five parts of “Every Photo is a Story” as well as from doing the Try It Yourself Exercises for Parts 1 through 4. Revisit the skills of each previous part as you explore a garden and see what stories you can unearth.  Please complete each part of the exercise before reading the next part.

Start with this photograph of a garden:

Woman watering in a garden with man observing.
View higher resolution file.

Part 1: Start to Read a Photograph:

  1. Look closely at the photograph. Open up the higher resolution file. Spend a few minutes studying the photograph, and zoom in on the details, one section of the photo at a time.
  2. Describe what you see and question your assumptions. Take in details of the setting, including: clothing, people's expressions, buildings and landscape, objects in use. Write down your observations. Ask yourself: How do I know this is true? What stands out as unusual? Before moving on, read over your observations and the photo. Speculate about the story of this photo.
  3. Read the catalog description. With your observations in hand, read the catalog description for this photograph. How did your observations match up to the information given? What surprised you, if anything?
  4. Browse for related photographs. Related photographs are sometimes located near each other in the catalog. Look at the catalog description for the photograph and select the "Browse neighboring items by call number" link. Do you see any photographs that appear related to the photo in question? Explore the related photos and catalog records to see if they add to your understanding of the first photo.
  5. Learn more about the collection. The photograph is from a larger collection of photographs in the Prints and Photographs Division. Study the catalog description and see if you can locate the name of the collection. Once you do, select the linked collection name to be taken to the home page for that group of photographs. Explore the articles and essays about the collection to learn more about its scope and content. Consider how the initial photograph fits into this context.
  6. Search for related photographs. Collect a list of keywords from the catalog record, looking at the title, summary, notes and subject and format headings. Think of additional keywords which could also retrieve related or similar images. Try your searches in the photograph's collection first, and then explore the entire Prints and Photographs Online Catalog to find related photographs in other collections. Look for additional keywords or subject headings in related photographs, and use them to continue your searches.
  7. Consider the context. How did the additional related photographs add to your understanding of the initial photograph? What did you learn about the photographs by reading about the collection?

Part 2: Get to Know the Photographer:

  1. Read biographical information about the photographer.According to the catalog description the photographer of the original photograph is Ann Rosener. Read a biographical essay about Rosener.
  2. Study additional photographs by the same photographer in the Prints and Photographs Division's collections. Explore more photographs by Ann Rosener in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
  3. Answer these questions after viewing the photographs:
    • In what ways does knowing more about the photographer affect your viewing of the images?
    • What aspects of the photographer's experience appear to impact the photographs and their creation?
    • Were you surprised by the facts of the photographer's life or did they confirm observations you made regarding the photographs?
    • What did you learn by looking at the additional photographs in the collection that you did not learn from viewing a single image?

Jack Delano
Jack Delano. Photo, ca. 1943.

Part 3: Consider How the Photos Were Made:

Identify the characteristics of the original photographic objects. View the Medium field in the catalog description. The original photographic object is a nitrate film negative, and the Notes area of the catalog description, we learn the original size of the negative was 4 x 5 inches, which means the camera was a large format camera. Farm Security Administration photographer Jack Delano is holding a typical large format camera in the photo at the right.

The Graflex Speed Graphic 4x5 Press Camera was a common large format camera in the 1940s, as shown on this web page from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History's camera collection.

Do you think the size of the camera or the size of the resulting negative had an impact on the creation of Rosener's photograph?

Part 4: Explore the Photographer's Era

  1. Learn about the photographer's era. Read publications about the time period, including newspapers and popular periodicals. Keep in mind the search terms you used when looking for related photographs in Part 1, as they may prove useful in these searches as well.
  2. Think about where the photos would have been used and seen. Rosener's photograph of a couple working in a Victory Garden in 1943 was taken as part of her work for the Office of War Information. Learn about the Office of War Information and its goals. Where would her photographs be seen? Read the captions carefully and think about the audience.

    • Look for publications related to the collection. In this case, the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information. Consult the Selected Bibliography and Related Resources and seek out these publications in your library.

    • Wikipedia articles can offer a good starting point for understanding a topic. Read the Office of War Information External link entry, and pursue the resources provided at the bottom of the page.

    • Search for additional information on the Office of War Information online.
      Example: The War, External link a documentary TV series, has an extensive website. The section on Communication External link offers some insight into how war information was shared during World War II, including visual communication such as photographs and posters.

  3. Answer these questions:
    • Does learning about the era of the photograph expand your understanding of the photograph itself? In what ways?
    • How did learning about where the photograph would have been seen and why it was taken offer further insight?

Part 5: Interpret Stories You Discover.

After exploring this photograph using some of the skills learned in the first four parts of "Every Photo is a Story," try to unearth the story (or stories) the photo is telling.

Woman watering in a garden with man observing.

What can you learn when you:

  • Look closely at the photographs?
  • Learn about who took the picture?
  • Consider the photographic technology and the audience?
  • Search for related written information?

Revisit your initial observations and speculation about the photograph. What has changed about your perception of the photo and its story? Do you see the intent of the photographer, the effects of the camera, the employer of the photographer, and the audience for which it was intended?

If you want to learn more about a photograph, remember to:
Ask lots of questions--and ask for help. Seek out reference librarians, archivists, historians and other experts for guidance and assistance.

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  July 6, 2015
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